Attacking Invasive Plants from the Air

Wired’s Planet Earth
reports that the Nature Conservancy’s Hawaii program has undertaken an ambitious conservation program in the Kauai watershed, a 144,000-acre “cloud forest” that varies in elevation by 3,000 feet. According to Wired, the area has been invaded by Australian tree ferns, an invasive species characterized as “water-sucking” and “plant-strangling.”

Given the difficulty of accessing the area’s varied and dense terrain on foot, the Nature Conservancy team decided to go by plane. The Nature Conservancy first flies a Cessna 186 fitted with digital cameras and “a multispectral imager” that creates precise images of areas of infestation. Australian tree ferns have a distinctive shape so individual plants can be marked for herbicide. 

Once plants are marked, a helicopter is set up with a “winch system” with a hose used to spray tree ferns. The Nature Conservancy team also tested the use of “high-pressure paintball guns” that can shoot herbicide pellets. This system was developed for by University of Hawaii weed ecologist James Leary.

Read the article

For more on fighting invasive plant species in the U.S., go to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agriculture Library, which offers a comprehensive set of resources on invasive plants. The New York Botanical Garden has an online catalog as well.

In the UK, the government has asked gardeners to help limit the introduction of non-native plant species into the wild through its “Be Plant Wise” campaign. The Guardian (UK) writes: “the Be Wise Campaign is warning that five non-native aquatic bullies – floating pennywort, New Zealand pigmyweed, water-primrose, parrot’s feather and water fern – are invading British waterways, wiping out native species and disrupting water sports and boating.” 

Lastly, check out Nature Conservancy’s now-defunct “Global Invasive Species Team” for more resources, which includes voluntary codes of conduct for the landscape and horticultural industries.

Image credit: Chad Riley, The Nature Conservancy / Wired Planet Earth

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